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Strong optimism surrounds park's future

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Shelly Birkelo
Friday, August 10, 2012

— Larry Altreuter's dream was to have a place for kids to play and hang out in Janesville.

That dream came true in 1992 when the Tuesday and Wednesday Breakfast Optimist clubs announced plans to work with the city of Janesville to turn farmland at the corner of Ruger Avenue and Wuthering Hills Drive into a park.

One year later, on Sept. 21, 1993, Optimist Community Park was dedicated. Five after that, Altreuter—known to many as "Mr. Optimist"—died.

In 1997, the Thursday Noon Optimists joined the other two clubs in developing the park. Since then, about 1,000 trees have been planted and members have invested countless volunteer hours and an estimated $100,000, said Tim Johnson, Optimist Community Park committee chairman.

As a result, the 35-acre park has become a hub of activity for youth who gather to play lacrosse, football and soccer. In addition, the Optimists use the park to host summer movies, an annual carnival and the Optimist Classic—an annual cross-country event for grade school and middle school students.

The park also features a section that memorializes its visionary. This level site, known as Altreuter Field, is used for sports and other activities.

The park also features a walking trail, a raised walkway across Blackhawk Creek, a half-dozen wooden benches club members have made and placed throughout the park. Electricity was added in 2011.

This week, Johnson will meet with the city plan commission to ask for approval to build a 16-by-24-foot metal park pavilion. The Optimists already have the $15,000 needed to build the shelter.

"We would like to have it built this fall but think it probably will be next spring before it happens," Johnson said. "It all depends on how things come together."

The Optimists also have bought two riding lawn mowers that club members use to mow the park—a task that takes about 10 hours.

"It's exceptionally rare to have an organization provide park mowing," said Tom Presny, city parks director.

The Janesville Lacrosse Club, which practices at the park, bought a storage shed and allows the Optimists to store the inflatable movie screen they use for summer movies in it.

Without the Optimists involvement, Optimist Community Park wouldn't exist, Presny said.

"In this era—1992-93—we were increasing in terms of parkland, but we had a hold on any development and staffing due to the budget and the economy." he said. "With that, the city accepted the Optimists' adoption of the park."

Optimist Community Park is one of seven community parks, 34 neighborhood parks and a total of 66 parks in this city of parks, Presny said.

The turf/grass in the playing field of the park will be improved in 2013, Johnson said. Other future improvements include installation of a 50-stall parking lot, another pavilion and restrooms by 2020, he said.

"As long as these members continue to have this interest, which I don't see going away any time soon, we'll continue to move forward," Johnson said.

Last updated: 5:11 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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